Appeal to the Baseline

The retail politics of the Hales budget creates winners and losers.

Politicians don't usually gain support by making budget cuts.

But the startling thing about Mayor Charlie Hales' first budget, released April 30, is how the mayor's cutting of $21.5 million has been met with enthusiasm and even gratitude.

"He said he was going to protect core services," says City Commissioner Nick Fish. "He's done so. It evidences a spirit of collaboration."

Hales hasn't just kept his promise to fill the city's budget shortfall. He's also used the decisions of what to keep and what to cut as a way to settle scores from last fall's election, send notice to bureaus he plans to shake up, and build a political coalition. Let's take a look at whom Hales likes:

WINNER: The safety net
Housing is the only city bureau to get every dollar it asked Hales for—including the 90-bed men's shelter at the Clark Center. That generosity shows the mayor is paying proper deference to the city's powerful social-services lobby.

LOSER: Firefighters
Portland Fire & Rescue is a longtime adversary for Hales. He not only slashed its staffing (by 41.8 positions) but attacked its traditions, reducing the size of rigs responding to calls instead of closing fire stations. The move is a loud repudiation of his predecessors—Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Randy Leonard—who had protected the bureau.

WINNER: Neighborhood associations
Hales has made neighborhood livability a top priority, keeping graffiti-removal, tree-planting programs and Sunday Parkways. By moving noise control into the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, he enhances that bureau's profile—a win for Commissioner Amanda Fritz as well as Portland's always-restless NIMBYs.

LOSER: Urban renewal areas
The Portland Development Commission's tax base is quickly expiring, so Hales might have backfilled a bit of it. Instead, he sent a sharp signal to the PDC that its salad days are over—cutting the bureau's budget by 18 percent and shutting down Main Street programs for the Alberta and Hillsdale neighborhoods.

WINNER: Seniors and schools
No retail politician ever went wrong by appealing to the elderly (who vote) or funding children (whom everybody votes for). Hales kept senior-center money flowing, preserved school police, and funded four SUN schools. 

LOSER: Litigious water ratepayers
The mayor weakened the case of ratepayers suing the city—he scaled back proposed water-rate increases 14.8 percent to 3.6 percent. One of the ways Hales did that: axing the 24-hour security guards at the city's reservoirs, a legacy of Leonard that costs the city $1.5 million a year. 

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